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Top Premier League Storylines — Week 26

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The first weekend after the transfer window has closed means teams will look to integrate their new signings as quickly as possible. What will be the fallout from the deals done?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Which new attacking player will have the most immediate impact?
Manchester City vs. Newcastle United — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC STREAM ]

Olivier Giroud could start if Alvaro Morata is still sidelined. Alexis Sanchez has yet to hit the back of the net for Manchester United. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan headline the Arsenal attack as the Gunners host Everton. The Toffees still need Cenk Tosun to get off the mark.

Which attacker will have the biggest impact this weekend? With Morata likely to return, Giroud will most certainly have to wait for his first chance at Chelsea, but that could come quickly if Morata continues to fire blanks, with just one goal since December 3rd. Sanchez was stifled by Tottenham as Manchester United fell 2-0 last time out. Arsenal seems to have the best chance, with Aubameyang likely to be thrust into action soon as the Gunners have few options up front. As they host Everton at the Emirates, the Gabonese international could be at the forefront of the headlines in London as they take on a defense without a clean sheet since Boxing Day.

Who will take charge of second place?
Liverpool vs. Tottenham — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN STREAM ]

A Manchester United loss last time out means the top four race is even more wide open than before. The Red Devils have just a three-point lead in second place, and Liverpool, Chelsea, and Tottenham are all within three or five points. Two of those teams meet in a critical matchup as the Reds host Spurs at Anfield.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

With Liverpool three points behind Manchester United and Spurs five back, either team could potentially take control of third position with a win and some help. The Reds were incredibly quiet on Deadline Day, and now the leaky Liverpool defense will have to contend with Alexis Sanchez for a third time this season. The past two times Sanchez met the Reds while with Arsenal, a total of 10 goals were scored between the two matches (a 4-0 Liverpool win and a 3-3 draw that saw Sanchez score a goal).

Can Virgil Van Dijk lock down Harry Kane in a battle of Premier League stars? All eyes will be on that matchup as these two teams battle it out for top four supremacy.

Can Swansea continue surge against tumultuous Leicester?
Leicester City vs. Swansea City — 10:00 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold STREAM ]

Riyad Mahrez has reportedly gone on strike at Leicester City with his future at the club in jeopardy. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Swansea City has kicked down the door to safety with a pair of impressive wins against Liverpool and Arsenal to help them lift off the bottom of the table. They visit King Power Stadium on Saturday to take on a Leicester City side in serious turmoil. After the club once again refused to sell Riyad Mahrez to Manchester City, the star winger has reportedly refused to show up for training, and his status for this weekend – and beyond – could be in serious jeopardy.

The Foxes saw their three-match unbeaten run snapped last time out against Everton, could they be in for more disappointment at home with Mahrez on the outside looking in? With a win and the right results, Swansea could not only lift themselves out of the relegation zone, but they could leap as high as 14th if things go right. What a result that could be for new manager Carlos Carvahal.

Will Manchester City put its depth problems in the rear view mirror?
Burnley vs. Manchester City — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN STREAM ]

The Premier League runaways dominated West Brom last time out, but breaking down Burnley at Turf Moor is a whole other task. With Manchester City unable to secure a deal for Mahrez at the deadline, they are left with Bernardo Silva to step into the injured Leroy Sane’s role. The Portuguese winger has seen his role diminish with Sane’s explosion and his own struggles, with just one goal and no assists in his last six appearances. However, with Sane out for six weeks at minimum, Bernardo Silva will combine with David Silva and Raheem Sterling to fill Sane’s shoes.

Burnley’s inability to score of late will leave them serious underdogs in this matchup, but should they knick a score, the stout Clarets defense could take center stage. Burnley has not conceded more than one goal in any game since they last faced Manchester City just about a month ago in a 4-1 FA Cup loss. Will the Citizens punish Burnley again?

10-man Red Bulls hold off Atlanta United at home

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Atlanta United’s five-game winning streak went up in smoke as the New York Red Bulls pulled off an incredible 1-0 victory.

Playing down a man for around 65 minutes, the Red Bulls shutout Atlanta United’s high powered offense in front of 18,495 fans at Red Bull Arena. Tom Barlow, in just his second appearance with the Red Bulls, scored the game-winning goal in the 65th minute off a header at the far post, one that left U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Brad Guzan rooted to his line.

[READ: Pep: Domestic Treble harder than UCL]

Tim Parker was shown a straight red card in controversial fashion, after grabbing Josef Martinez’s left arm with Martinez in front of him just outside the box. Martinez was clearly pulled back but continued running and eventually got a shot off that Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles parried away.

Referee Robert Sbiga then decided to call the play back and award Atlanta United a free kick outside the box. After what seemed to be consultation with his assistants, Sbiga then showed Parker a straight red card, likely for denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) while Martinez was through on goal.

The outcome is a massive one for the Red Bulls. It’s been a rough season, with the loss of both Jesse Marsch and Tyler Adams and the poor form of Bradley Wright-Phillips up top. Wright-Phillips was out on Sunday and another attacker Andreas Ivan, went off with an injury in the first half as he was about to be substituted off anyways following the red card.

Alejandro Romero Gamarra, Kaku, has made his feelings known that he wants (or wanted) to leave the club. His form hasn’t been stellar this season either.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s finally found its way back into the win column and is looking more like the juggernaut from last season, especially with five-straight shutout wins. It’s all back to zero today though, with the defeat at the Red Bulls on a perfect grass pitch up a man.

Mbappe hints he could leave PSG

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Kylian Mbappe accepted his award as the Ligue 1 MVP, dedicated it to Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and then mentioned he could be off soon to another club.

Wait, what?

Yes, following Mbappe accepting his award, the French star and World Cup winner stated he hoped he could continue his career at PSG but left open the possibility of moving to another club that allows him to take the next steps in his career.

[READ: Kompany to join Anderlecht as player-manager]

“This is a very important moment for me, I arrive at a first or second turn of my career,” Mbappe said, via L’equipe. “I’ve discovered a lot of things here, I feel that maybe it’s time to have more responsibility. I hope it may be at Paris Saint-Germain, it would be with great pleasure, or perhaps elsewhere for a new project.”

Mbappe later clarified his comments, stating he was looking for more responsibility. “If it’s at PSG, that’s good. If it is elsewhere, it will be elsewhere for a new challenge.

“For me, it was time to say it. I am someone whole: when I say something, I think it. For me, it was the right time to say it. That’s it, I said it!”

It’s unclear why exactly Mbappe used this moment to put some pressure on PSG. Perhaps its to remind them that the club needs to be successful in its transfer endeavors this summer, so it can compete deep into the UEFA Champions League. With Neymar injured and a central midfield ravaged by injuries, PSG capitulated and somehow fell to Manchester United in the Champions League Round of 16, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

There’s no reason why PSG can’t dominate the Champions League like it does Ligue 1, especially with the attacking trident of Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani. But of course, against better competition, the inferiority in mentality and in talent along the backline has started to show.

So, where could Mbappe go? There’s very few places that could effectively match both his salary and his competitive goals. It’s the usual suspects, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and perhaps Manchester City, should they be interested in it. More recently, while Man City has spent big, it’s been on signing multiple players on $50 million transfers, as opposed to one player on a $200 million transfer, for example.

It’s unlikely, but an intriguing option would be Liverpool. If the club somehow came up with the funds, imagine Mbappe playing alongside Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, with Roberto Firmino coming in to spell either of the three over the course of the season. Mbappe would likely make up that one-point difference between Liverpool and Man City, and if that’s what it takes for Liverpool to finally win the title, it could be worth the initial massive investment.

Messi finishes season leading La Liga in goals, assists, and more

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Lionel Messi turns 32 this summer, and after more than a dozen years of first team soccer, playing more than 50 games a season, the old man’s still got it.

The Argentine star, playing his first season in almost a decade without direct competition from Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Barcelona tied Eibar, 2-2. The two goals gave him 34 for the season, by far the most by any player in the league, and his 50th in all competitions.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Messi also led La Liga this season with 13 assists, 136 shots, 85 shots on target and 70 through balls. In terms of successful dribbles, Messi’s 132 fell seven short of Celta Vigo’s Sofiane Boufal.

Messi’s 34 goals gave him his sixth Pichichi, the trophy given to the league’s leading scorer. Messi is now tied with legendary Telmo Zarra for the all-time record of most Pichichi’s, and Messi is now three ahead of Ronaldo.

As if Messi wasn’t already a legendary player, the man seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. It may have helped that he skipped matches with Argentina after the 2018 World Cup this past fall, keeping him fresh for Barcelona. Even so, the man looks as good, if not better, with age.

Messi already holds the record for most goals in league history, and at this rate, he’ll set it to a level that will be almost impossible to reach. While he’s going to be remembered for his incredible control on the ball, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been incredibly productive during his career, including in 2018-2019. Barcelona won the league title with ease and the club made the UEFA Champions League semifinal. If for some better defending, Messi could be contesting for another Champions League title.

Nani scores twice as Orlando City thrashes FC Cincinnati

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Nani may not be the star he once was while he played for Manchester United, but he’s still making a powerful impact in MLS.

The Portuguese international scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season as Orlando City ran circles expansion side FC Cincinnati, winning 5-1. Along with Nani, Tesho Akindele scored a brace and Dom Dwyer came off the bench and scored a header in the win.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Aside from having a chance to record a big win over a struggling side, Orlando City may have been ultra motivated on Sunday. Orlando City manager James O’Connor has history with FC Cincinnati from his time at Louisville City, with intense rivalry matches taking place as well as arguments between O’Connor and former FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati actually went up early with a Darren Mattocks finish past Brian Rowe, but it didn’t take long for Orlando City to respond. Akindele fired home from 20-yards out in the 37th minute to make it 1-1. Early in the second half, Nani scored on a penalty kick rebound to make it 2-1 to the hosts, and then he added a second off a cross from the right to blast the game wide open.

With the win, Orlando City moved just one point outside of a playoff place, while Cincinnati remains in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando City has a difficult road ahead, with matches against the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and D.C. United to come.